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EU hits Russia, Belarus with more sanctions, set to snub Ukraine on swift membership

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: European Union flags are seen outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/

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By Richard Lough and Francesco Guarascio

PARIS/BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Union agreed new sanctions against Russia and its ally Belarus that blacklist 14 more oligarchs and freezes relations with Belarus’ central bank and three top lenders there, the EU Commission said on Wednesday.

The measures come on top of a barrage of other sanctions imposed on Russia and Belarus for the invasion of Ukraine and aim to further increase pressure on the two countries’ economies.

The sanctions, which will become effective after publication on the EU’s official journal, freeze the assets of 14 more oligarchs linked to the Russian state.

Their names have not been disclosed, but the European Commission said they concern businesspeople active in the metallurgical, agriculture, pharmaceutical, telecom and digital industries, and also their family members.

One diplomat said Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was not included in the list. The EU had previously sanctioned 26 oligarchs and businessmen linked to the Russian state over the invasion of Ukraine.

A total of 160 individuals are to be added to the EU blacklist, including 146 members of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian Parliament.

Altogether, EU restrictive measures now apply to a total of 862 individuals and 53 entities linked to the invasion of Ukraine.

EU exports of maritime technology to Russia will also be banned and the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping will be added to the list of state-owned enterprises subject to financing limitations.

The new package clarified that crypto assets are covered by existing sanctions against Russia and Belarus, in a bid to limit their use to circumvent restrictions.

With no end in sight to Russia’s bombardment of Ukrainian cities, Western governments are cranking up the pressure on Moscow.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden imposed an immediate ban on Russian oil and other energy imports and Britain announced said it would phase out the import of Russian oil and oil products by the end of 2022.

Washington’s European allies are, however, more dependent on Russian oil and gas and have held back from sanctioning it.

BELARUS

The new round of sanctions is particularly hard on Belarus, which the EU accuses of backing Russia’s invasion.

They prohibit transactions with the Central Bank of Belarus “related to the management of reserves or assets”, and the provision of public financing for trade and investment in Belarus. This effectively freezes reserves held in EU banks in a largely symbolic move because they are estimated not to be very significant.

Listing and provision of financial services to Belarus state-owned entities on EU trading venues is banned from April 12.

Three Belarusian banks are also excluded from the SWIFT banking system. They are: Belagroprombank, Bank Dabrabyt, and the Development Bank of the Republic of Belarus, the Commission said in a statement. Similar measures had previously been imposed on seven Russian lenders.

Belarusian nationals and residents will be prevented from transferring to EU banks deposits exceeding 100 euros ($110) and will no longer be able to buy euro-denominated securities.

Moscow calls its action in Ukraine a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbour and dislodge leaders it calls “neo-Nazis.” Kyiv and its Western allies dismiss this as a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war against a democratic country of 44 million people.

The new sanctions were drafted by the commission on Tuesday and were formally agreed at a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday.

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